One of the most important aspects of the learning process is the opportunity for the student to apply a newly learned skill. This period of repetitive practice allows the student to develop a cognitive skill (the student is acquainted with the task but is not proficient in performing it) to an autonomous level (proficiency) through repeated rehearsal. Like much of our learning, this trial and error process requires the supervision of an instructor to facilitate the learning process through effective critique. It is during this period of task repetition that the flight instructor faces a most demanding challenge, determining the point at which to intervene with corrective action if required. While it is important for the student to have an opportunity to learn from mistakes, the flight instructor has the higher responsibility of conducting the training flight with the utmost regard for safety.
Because a significant amount of instructional activity occurs at low altitude in the traffic pattern, it is vital for the instructor to remain vigilant and exercise timely corrective action as needed. Proper supervision of student performance requires the instructor to anticipate and recognize situations having the potential to result in an accident. Unfortunately, the window of opportunity available to recognize and react to these situations is brief and, in many cases, can be measured in seconds.
A review of NTSB reports from 1986 -1995 revealed 30 glider accidents related to flight training activities. This represents approximately eight percent of the total number of the accidents for the period. While data is not currently available relating to the total number of instructional flights made in gliders each year, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association estimates that flight training accounts for approximately 23 percent of general aviation activity. According to the 1994 Joseph T. Nall General Aviation Safety Report, accidents occurring during flight training accounted for 14 percent of the total number of general aviation accidents.
WHEN ARE WE MOST AT RISK ?
Not surprisingly, all but one of the glider instructional accidents reported occurred during the takeoff and landing phases of flight. These accidents were almost evenly divided between takeoff (14) and landing (15). The remaining accident was attributed to inadequate pre-flight preparation and occurred as a result of the controls not being connected during preflight inspection. It is interesting to note that the majority of landing accidents occurred due to gliders being landed short of the runway. Additionally, unplanned off-airport landings accounted for a significant number of accidents as well.
Problems encountered during takeoff occurred primarily as a result of premature terminations of the tow or PT3. Causal factors ranged from actual equipment malfunctions to gliders not having sufficient altitude to return to the runway following a simulated low altitude release. Loss of directional control and improper configuration (dive brakes/ spoilers inadvertently left open) accounted for the remainder of the takeoff accidents.
WHEN ARE OUR STUDENTS MOST AT RISK ?
As expected, a majority of accidents involving student pilots in solo operations during this period occurred during the takeoff and landing phase. Approximately 50% of these accidents were the result of gliders being landed short of the runway or hitting objects in close proximity to the takeoff or landing area following loss of directional control. Most sobering, however, was the number of landing accidents (16%) in which stall/spin was a causal factor.
As flight instructors, it is important to integrate this information into our training practices and procedures. For example, one of the most recurring causal factors in accidents involving student pilots is loss of directional control on landing. Consider also that loss of directional control is the third most frequent cause factor of general aviation accidents. Even though a student may have consistently demonstrated landing proficiency in light wind conditions, the instructor must be satisfied that an adequate level of proficiency is demonstrated in crosswind conditions as well. Additionally, the instructor must ensure that each student has adequate knowledge of the problems associated with downwind landings.
The FAA Aviation Instructor's Handbook states, The formation of correct habit patterns from the beginning of any learning process is essential to further learning and for correct performance after the completion of training. It is our responsibility as flight instructors to establish a proper foundation on which our students can build a lifetime of safe soaring. Flight instructors must always strive to create good accident prevention attitudes in our students by demonstrating proper operating techniques and by maintaining the highest standards in our instructional activities.